Monday, 25 November 2013

I'm sorry, I haven't got a clue

World Peace Flag of the Universal Peace Congress.
World Peace Flag of the Universal Peace Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was recently asked to be a judge in a speaking contest, and I grudgingly went along. I have done this before, about 20 years ago, and have managed to avoid doing it again ever since. I was expecting to be droned to death with pre forma banalaties about 'world peace', 'my neighbourhood' or 'my hero'.

Pleasantly surprised - no speeches.

My mission was to conduct a short interview in English. No parameters given. No hints about what to be looking for or what kind of level I should be aiming at. We had been faxed (too much) personal data, which was also in the hands of the other six (male, fossilised) judges. So we knew which schools they attended (and therefore teachers, pals, siblings), as well as their home addresses etc. Fair?

The high schoolers were vying for the chance to do a homestay overseas. They had submitted a piece of writing (in Japanese) and were asked some really banal (and irrelevant/unfair) questions (again, in Japanese) such as "Do you have allergies?" which produced the kind of mundane answers you'd expect from nervous teens in the hot seat. Presumably, if you do have an allergy, you disqualify yourself? What about a wheelchair...

I  asked questions (in English) relating to their experiences (from their bios) and from their submissions (neither of which were in English), starting with something familiar they ought to be able to manage, and getting a bit harder if I thought they could manage. I wanted to get the teens to give us a flavour of themselves, and the opportunity to express themselves less rigidly. Varying degrees of success eg the eventual winner did not have a clue about her supposed heroine, nor the runner-up have any thought about what to say if she met someone famous (beyond "Hello"), but both had a speech memorised about 'my town'.

When each of the contestants had had their turn, there was a totting up of scores - only I was asked what mine were, and then asked to justify them. Apparently, my scores were wrong. No matter guys, ignore me by all means. Much more important that they sat up straight and will not have a reaction to the neighbour's cat?
World Peace Gong
World Peace Gong (Photo credit: Rolling Okie)

My clear winner came all but last, and her clear lifelong ambition of studying in whichever country she had chosen shot down...the panel's winner, farsically, could not be the winner because she was too young to get a visa to study in the country she had chosen (which was on the form, methinks?)...so the really dreary, politically correct one got the golden ticket. No doubt a very enjoyable trip it will be - but I'd send the one with a bit of personality and chops, wouldn't you, dear reader?. Obviously, I cannot be counted on to apply the proper criteria, even 20 years + since my last speech contest!